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Arnold Palmer statue to be unveiled Saturday at Bay Hill

By Edgar Thompson
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The late Arnold Palmer was a larger-than-life presence for nearly 50 years at Bay Hill Club and Lodge.

Palmer will remain so in spirit, but also now an impressive likeness of The King will loom over the 1st and 10th tee boxes at the course he made famous.

A 13-foot, 1,392-pound bronze statue of Palmer will be unveiled at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Bay Hill. The statue is a replica of one of Palmer at Wake Forest University, his alma mater, and depicts the unique and recognizable follow-through of his powerful golf swing.

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"There will be no ropes or fences around this statue," said Marci Doyle, chief operating officer of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. "It will be infinitely approachable, just like Mr. Palmer."

MasterCard, the tournament's longtime sponsor, covered costs for the statue's production, shipping and installation to honor Palmer and his legacy.

The statue will be unveiled during the traditional breakfast held the Saturday prior to the tournament the event's 1,500 volunteers. The tournament is scheduled for March 16-19.

The statue was created by renowned sculptor Bruce Wolfe of northern California. Wolfe visited Palmer at his golf club in Latrobe, Pa., and also gathered more than 100 photographs of Palmer.

The sculpture took eight months to complete and since October 2013 has sat outside the Arnold Palmer Golf Complex at Wake Forest University. The new statue has been made from the same mold, despite the fact many would say they broke the mold with Arnold Palmer.

Opening ceremony

For the first time, organizers of the Arnold Palmer Invitational will stage an opening ceremony they hope becomes a tradition.

A presentation will begin at 11:15 a.m. Wednesday, March 15, to pay homage to Palmer. Golf Channel's Rich Lerner will serve as master of ceremonies, Palmer's grandson Sam Saunders, a PGA Tour professional, will speak and a touching video tribute will be shown.

The many players expected to attend then will participate in a ceremonial tee shot on the practice range.

Field takes shape

The API field will not be final until 5 p.m. Friday, but at present it features 12 of the world's top 18 players.

This includes world No. 2 Jason Day, the defending champion, world No. 3 Rory McIlroy and world No. 4 Hideki Matsuyama.

But three of the biggest names in golf are not expected to make their way to Bay Hill for the first tournament since Palmer's Sept. 25 passing.

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, No. 5 Jordan Spieth and No. 19 Phil Mickelson, the 1997 winner of the event, will not be playing next week, unless something unexpected changes by Friday.

The World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play held the following week for the second year led some players to skip Bay Hill in 2016.

2010 U.S. Open winner Graeme McDowell, a Lake Nona resident, will serve as one of the tournament hosts this year. He cites his second-place finish in 2005 at Bay Hill as an impetus in his professional career.

"There are guys that are not going to be there this year and they're probably going to be unfairly criticized," he said. "At the end of the day everyone has their schedule and they stick to it. It's a busy time of the year. People remember Mr. Palmer in all ways. You don't have to play the event to show respect.

"But it's a like a hometown event for me. I'm a MasterCard guy. Like I say, Bay Hill has been incredibly good to me."

Payne Stewart remembered

Thirty years after Payne Stewart's 1987 victory at Bay Hill, the award named for him will be on display next week at Bay Hill.

The Payne Stewart Award has been given annually since 2000 to the golfer who best exemplifies character, charity and sportsmanship. A longtime Orlando resident, Stewart donated his Bay Hill winner's check ($108,000) to charity in 1987.

The award will be on display Thursday, March 16, at the MasterPass Club, open to anyone with a MasterCard, and at events at the ninth hole March 17 -18. On Sunday, March 19, the award, the Claret Jug from the British Open and Arnold Palmer memorabilia will be displayed at the MasterCard Trophy Suite near the 17th hole.


This article is written by Edgar Thompson from The Orlando Sentinel and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.